The Association of Indoor Play (AIP) is appealing to the Government for financial support as cancellations of children’s parties and Christmas events increase due to Government Plan B guidelines for England and as the devolved nations move to tougher restrictions, with the Welsh Government introducing strict new Covid regulations from today.
Parents nationwide are relying on this industry serving 60 million UK children annually for their children’s post-Covid mental and physical recovery. Operators had just started to recover and should be enjoying peak trading season in these months, yet cancellations are reaching up to 50% for some.
Indoor play centres introduced the toughest cleaning, social distancing and timed entry measures, on a par only with schools, and have had no known outbreaks of Covid within a centre.
Speaking to AIP, Association Member James Sinclair, owner of Party Man World – that owns 9 indoor plays and 2 large farm attractions - said his business had already seen a drop in footfall, plus cancellations and calls from concerned parents. He underlined that the industry is in need of urgent financial help in the form of an extension of the business rates and VAT relief plus an emergency Government grant. He stated that if his business was forced to close between now and the end of January he would be looking at minimum losses of 3 million, but if this were to go further and through February with the loss of half term the damage to his business would be catastrophic.
The sector was one of the last to re-open bar nightclubs in mid-May and operators endured a quiet summer trading period until birthday parties and events, accounting for 40% of their trade, were only permitted to be re-introduced at the end of July. Since then, operators have seen month-on-month improvements in trade but nowhere near enough to sustain them financially for this dip or potential closure. Janice Dunphy, Owner of Web Adventure Park in York and AIP Chair said, “It is like we are preparing for the tsunami following the earthquake that could potentially devastate our already weakened sector. This was our time to build back our businesses but that messages the Government is giving is creating fear. They feedback we are seeing from parents is fear of isolation and their children suffering setbacks.”
AIP has been feeding back the challenges being faced to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) and lobbying for urgent support. The sector, also represented by UK Hospitality umbrella, has also faced many of the wider challenges of the hospitality sector such as supply chain issues for food and consumables, soaring prices and staff shortages. A survey of Association members reveals that half are still facing rental arrears to clear and a further 10% are facing rent increases. Larger operators above the 50K rateable value were not allowed access to grants in the first lockdown. A further lockdown will decimate this sector that heavily invested in COVID safe measures and new play equipment and technology to win back customer and make their venues safe.
The Association of Indoor Play is the trade association for the 1,000 indoor play operators in the UK and has a membership base of 25% of the industry including single and multi-site businesses. AIP is a member of UK Hospitality, to whom they provide advice on government legislation for indoor play. They are also members of IAPPA (The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions). The AIP Committee is made up of a group of seasoned operators who volunteer their time and share their experience, expertise and passion for the industry.
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